Seattle Sounders FC’s fourth MLS season was highlighted by its first playoff series victory.
However, when the Sounders were eliminated in the Western Conference final by the Los Angeles Galaxy on Sunday, it also marked their first season without a trophy and their first time not qualifying for the next CONCACAF Champions League.
“Sometimes you guys thought that the Open Cup wasn’t a worthy trophy,” coach Sigi Schmid told reporters. “But we got one step closer (to MLS Cup), and maybe we’re the kind of team that’s got to go one step each year. The progress is, for me, in the last six playoff games we’ve played – last year and this year – we’ve won three. We’ve won three, we’ve tied one, we’ve lost two. The problem is the ones we lose, we lose 3-0, and we bury ourselves with that loss.”
That’s the way things turned out in 2011, when the Sounders fell three goals behind Real Salt Lake in the opening match before winning the second game – but not by enough to advance.
They avenged that by getting past RSL this season. But then they once again lost a series opener, 3-0, this time at L.A., then won the second game, but not by enough.
This time, it was a 2-1 win at CenturyLink Field, which gave the Galaxy the series by a 4-2 aggregate score and sends them on to MLS Cup final.
“Tonight is disappointing, but at the end of the day we definitely progressed,” Sounders midfielder Steve Zakuani said. “L.A. is not an easy team. It’s not a given you’re going to beat a team like LA. They’ve been there, they’ve done that. You look at the league, it’s Houston and L.A. again in the final. So it shows you it’s tough, and those two teams are there because they deserve to be there.”
Schmid said the club will spend the next few days scheduling end-of-season interviews with players. Then the planning will start for 2013.
“You should never make your decisions based upon one game,” he said. “You make your decisions based upon the season, so you look at what somebody’s given you over the season – consistency of effort, quality of play, all of those things – and you make decisions based upon that. In this league, you also have to make decisions based upon the salary cap. Does it work or does it not work?”
General manager Adrian Hanauer said the salary cap will be a factor in assembling next season’s roster, but he doesn’t expect it to force the club into anything beyond the normal offseason turnover.
Looking ahead, this is the first time the Sounders head into an offseason without having to prepare for an expansion draft.
The unofficial offseason time line will have the 2013 league schedule coming out in late December, the player scouting combine in early January, the MLS SuperDraft in mid-January, followed by the start of training camps.
The Sounders will return to competition at the Tucson Desert Diamond Cup from Feb. 13-23.
They will return to 2012-13 CCL play March 4 at Tigres UNAL of Mexico, with the return match in Seattle on March 11.
The CenturyLink Field crowd of 44,575 was the largest for any MLS postseason game other than MLS Cups. … Referee Mark Geiger gave this explanation for calling a handball on Sounders defender Adam Johansson: “The hand was in an unnatural playing position, and he was making himself bigger by taking space. His arms were outside of his body.” … Zakuani said he not only expects to go into next season fully healthy, but that he already feels that way and believes he showed it Sunday. … Galaxy midfielder Landon Donovan missed the game due to a hamstring injury, while injuries limited L.A. midfielder Juninho and Seattle midfielder Mauro Rosales to reserve roles. … Sounders career leading scorer Fredy Montero has never scored in the postseason, a run of 10 games and 829 minutes. He played 72 minutes Sunday before being replaced by David Estrada. Schmid said the move was made for energy and fresh legs.
Don Ruiz: 253-597-8808 email@example.com/soccer